Marijuana companies wade into Twitter advertising with mixed success

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(This story has been updated to reflect that Curaleaf Holdings is now headquartered in New York.)

It didn’t take long for the first marijuana advertisements on Twitter to get shut down.

On the first day the social media platform accepted cannabis ads in February, Hemper Co. Chief Marketing Officer Angel Ferrer set up an account and posted an ad for the Las Vegas-based company’s subscription boxes filled with a variety of cannabis accessories.

Twitter disabled the account three hours later.

“I wasn’t running anything that I thought should have been disabled,” said Ferrer, whose company sells boxes filled with everything from bongs and dab rigs to rolling papers and cleaning supplies.

“We weren’t showing smoke – we had a product with a box. It’s not like they even reached out and offered direction.”

Despite the disablement of his first Twitter ad, Ferrer said he’ll continue experimenting with the platform.

“We want to spend the money, and we know advertising is drying up on these platforms,” Ferrer said. “Our money is green just like everyone else’s.”

Earlier this year, San Francisco-headquartered Twitter became the first major social media platform to allow cannabis advertising, although advertisers face numerous restrictions – as companies such as Hemper are learning.

For starters, cannabis companies must have prior authorization from the platform and meet other requirements, such as being licensed in the states in which they operate and targeting only people who are at least 21 in those markets.

While Twitter prohibits the promotion of drugs and drug paraphernalia, it permits businesses to promote their brands and services.

To jump-start cannabis ad sales, Twitter is offering a six-week advertising incentive for cannabis brands.

The company said it will match new ad spending up to $250,000 on a one-to-one basis. The special offer runs through March 31.

Curaleaf takes the plunge

Kate Lynch, executive vice president of marketing for now-New York-based multistate operator Curaleaf Holdings, said she’s excited to have a new channel to promote the company’s products and launched an ad campaign on Twitter out of the gate.

The campaign displayed a vividly colored pulsating backdrop with the text “Cliq it for better cannabis.”

The ad ran for two weeks so the company could test whether it would result in clicks to its website. Lynch said the team will create new content and revive the ad soon.

“We see this as a strong brand-awareness play for us,” Lynch said. “We’re getting millions of impressions and clicks.

“What we’re not seeing is those clicks turning into sales, but that’s not the purpose of the campaign. The purpose was to get more eyeballs on Curaleaf.”

Purple Rose Supply, a Las Vegas-based maker of cannabis molding kits for making joints and cigars, also decided to test advertising on Twitter.

The company’s video ad, which wasn’t approved by Twitter, was aimed at revealing which burned faster – a joint or a cannagar (cannabis cigar) rolled with one of its devices.

“It didn’t go through because it may have been ineligible,” said Raveena Cheema, Purple Rose’s chief marketing officer.

And like Curaleaf, Purple Rose is measuring success by the click-throughs from the ad to the company’s website, Cheema said.

About 25% of Purple Rose’s budget is devoted to marketing, but Cheema said it’s too soon to tell how much of that will be earmarked for Twitter ads.

“When a platform opens up and allows something like this, we should take advantage of it,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of potential, but it’s just too early.”

Will other platforms follow?

Some industry experts say other social media platforms are likely to follow Twitter’s lead.

“There’s always fear of missing out,” said Rosie Mattio, founder and CEO of New York-based cannabis public relations and marketing firm Mattio Communications.

“They all track each other. Real ad dollars are being spent, and advertising on social networks across the board is down.”

But the question remains: Will cannabis companies see a return on their investments?

And that’s difficult to measure.

“You can’t click and buy, but you can direct people to stores for events, education days and promos,” Mattio said. “You can facilitate a sale without facilitating a sale on the platform.”

Many people surmise that platforms such as Facebook and Google – both of which are part of publicly traded companies – will not allow marijuana advertising until the plant is federally legal.

Twitter’s status as a public company changed when billionaire Elon Musk purchased it and took the business private.

“It’s a new platform that can be tested,” said Lisa Buffo, founder and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association.

“Smart marketing is doing what you know works and taking calculated risks on new channels.

“Now there’s something more mainstream to reach a new audience – you can test the new platform to determine whether it’s effective.”

Google’s ad platform recently loosened restrictions on hemp and CBD advertising in select markets but still excludes a lot of other cannabis marketing.

While companies such as Curaleaf, formerly headquartered in Massachusetts, and Purple Rose can determine how many clicks they got on their websites because of their Twitter ads, they can’t tell whether they’re converting to sales.

Tracking sales

That’s where companies such as Jane Technologies come in.

The Santa Cruz, California-based company powers e-commerce for about 3,000 retailers and brands.

Twitter can show its advertisers how many views, impressions and clicks an ad generated, but Jane can show them how many went to the store to make a purchase, said Socrates Rosenfeld, co-founder and CEO of Jane.

“It comes down to return on investment,” Rosenfeld said.

“We can consult with retailers and brands and show them exactly where they should be putting their dollars based on how much return they’re getting in the form of a sale.”

Cannabis companies advertising on Twitter must try to create awareness about their products and services without selling them directly, Buffo said.

Buffo said effective ads are simple and have a clear and concise message as well as a dedicated call to action aimed at achieving a particular goal.

“Say you have a blog post that tells the story of the brand,” she said.

“You can include a button in the ad that says, ‘Learn more’ to direct people there. If you’re selling T-shirts, you can have a button that says, ‘Buy now.’

“It’s essentially what you see on a button that tells you what to do.”

The average cannabis business’ annual marketing budget is $50,000 or less, and that operator is under more pressure to show a return on investment than mainstream companies, Buffo said.

“Even if they’re going to spend on new platforms, they’re running small tests to see if it works,” she said.

“The No. 1 thing they’re concerned about is targeting adults in legal markets, and it falls on the brand to establish that.”

Curaleaf’s Lynch said it’s also important to be open-minded, nimble and creative when it comes to driving value with your advertisements.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about education,” she said. “The more we can educate people about high-quality, safe cannabis product, the better off everyone will be.

“This is a nod toward normalization and acceptance.”